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Why You Can No Longer Talk Politics At The Office
A number of recent surveys give reason for us all to be concerned about the impact that last year’s election and Trump’s presidency are having in the workplace.
A study by BetterWorks shows a marked decrease in productivity owing to the amount of time employees spend in political discussions on social media—while at work. In an American Psychological Association survey, nearly 10 percent of respondents said that talking politics at work led to stress, diminished productivity, and a greater sense of distrust toward colleagues of a different political persuasion.
There was a time—and it does not seem that long ago—when work colleagues could exchange friendly banter or make light-hearted remarks about politics shortly before and after a presidential election. That is no longer the case. Trump’s candidacy and election have brought to a peak a tendency that has been growing for some years: politics as a well-defined and all-consuming tribal conflict.
You cannot be a moderate or reluctant supporter of Trump: you are either in or out of the Trump camp. If you are out, then you must hate, despise, and have nothing but contempt for those that are in. People like to think that a middle ground can be found in every situation; we like to believe we can show some kindness and sympathy with people who we otherwise work well and get along with. But something has happened in the American psyche that now makes this impossible. A range of developments, which include the now rather cliché factors of media, social, and educational fragmentation, have given rise to the kind of politics that Trump practices with gusto. It is a politics of wild conspiracy, permanent outrage, perpetual derangement, and floating hostility.
You can no longer talk politics at the office because no one can really talk politics at all. We can only scream at each other, call each other names, impugn each other’s morality, character, patriotism, intelligence, and trustworthiness.
The state we’re now in began on the right, not the left. Ambitious right-wing politicians and media personalities decided it wasn’t enough to criticize and object to their left-wing opponents; they had to paint them as evil, menacing, irredeemably corrupted scoundrels who could never be trusted with the reins of power. And if you are on the receiving end of that kind of talk, you are left with little choice but to respond in kind. That, in short, is how we ended up in the never-ending cage match that is our current politics.
To be sure, democratic elections have always been about getting more people to hate one side than the other. This has been a discernable principle of politics since the time of the Ancient Greeks. The trouble with our current situation is that not since before the civil war has politics been so definitively and violently divided—and unavoidable as a topic of discussion in nearly every social setting.
It is impossible not to take a position on Trump and the GOP congress. Bigotries, against LGBT people in particular, that most of us thought were dead and buried are being brought up again, health care benefits which many people have come to depend on are being threatened, the most extreme policies on immigration are being proposed—these are not abstract issues that play at the margins of what is essentially centrist policy; they effect ordinary people in their everyday lives, which means they will be mentioned in any casual conversation, at work and elsewhere.
So it would seem that we can no longer talk politics without it devolving into an incoherent shouting match; nor can we avoid talking politics given the raging fever it has become since the 2016 election.
What to do?
As always, my advice is to confront the matter head on. You will look at your colleagues who do not share your politics with suspicion, you will find it impossible to be friends and even a challenge to be friendly with them; you might even be tempted to make business judgments based on the fact that you distrust them. It is best to acknowledge all this so that you can find ways to reflect on and overcome—that is, make fair-minded decisions related to their work and careers—the hardened feelings you have for those of your work mates who are on the other side of the political divide.